Man Bites Crocodile

Criminologists aver that many a culprit would escape detection if he could resist the temptation to boast of his crimes. We were forcibly reminded of this dictum at the Griffin the other day when the club’s Ethics and Etiquette Committee was convened to hear a serious charge brought against the Hideous Hog by his inveterate enemy at the table, Papa the Greek.

As it happened, I had witnessed the whole of the incident which gave rise to Papa’s complaint, and my evidence was taken first. This briefly is what I had seen:

The last table was about to break up at the end of the afternoon session. The Hog, however, had nearly an hour to go before the first of his dinner engagements that night, so he wanted to play on.

“I can’t,” said Walter the Walrus. “I promised to be home before six.”

“but it is barely half past five,” rejoined the Hog. “There’s plenty of time for one more rubber.”

The Walrus cut the Rueful Rabbit while the Hog drew Timothy the Toucan, With his sleek red nose standing out against the sheen of a black mohair jacket, Timothy, bouncing jauntily in his seat, looked every inch a toucan.

Nothing much happened on the first few hands. Then, after an auction in which TT bid all four suits while HH continually answered in notrump, the Hog won out and scored game at 4NT. It was at this point the deal in question arose. I was seated between the Rabbit and the Toucan as the following auction unfolded:

Dlr: West ♠ A J 7
Vul: N-S 7 5 3
A K J 5
♣ K J 5
♠ 6 5
K J 6 4
10
♣ 8 7 6 4 3 2
West
R.R
North
TT
East
WW
South
HH
Pass 1NT Pass 3♠
Pass 4 Pass 4
Dbl 4♠ Pass 5♣
Pass 6♠ All Pass

The Rabbit led the 10, and as dummy came down, Papa the Greek walked through the room towards the bar.

“Excuse me,” said the Hog after a moment or two, “I must have left my lighter in my overcoat.”

“Have mine,” began the walrus, his ginger moustache bristling with impatience, but HH was already out of the room.

No sooner had he returned than there was another interruption, the steward coming in to announce a long-distance phone call for the Rabbit.

“Look here,” protested WW, “I really can’t go on. It’s nearly . . .”

“Let’s ask Papa to take RR’s hand,” suggested the Hog with his most engaging leer.

The Walrus looked up in surprise.

The Hog’s unselfishness was quite out of character. Fancy offering to replace so desirable an opponent as the Rabbit with a master of Papa’s brilliance. In a slam, too. The Walrus acquiesced hastily before HH could change his mind, and Papa was summoned to the table.

Having reviewed the bidding for Papa’s benefit, the Hog proceeded to play like lightning. “We must consider poor Walter,” he explained. “He has to be back home a few minutes ago.”

Winning the first trick with dummy’s diamond ace, the Hog laid down the ace of clubs and then drew two rounds of trumps. Next came the ace of hearts, followed by the heart deuce. The Walrus, who had played the heart nine on the ace, had his next card ready in his hand. Not so Papa. Sitting back purposefully, he studied matters with cold deliberation.

What was afoot? Both the bidding and the play pointed clearly to a six-card trump suit. If the Hog held either the diamond queen or the club queen, therefore, he would have not less than 12 top tricks. So WW had both those cards. Everything, then, hinged on the hearts. If the Hog’s hearts were headed by the A-Q, he would have surely finessed, Papa thought. So Walter has that queen too. But what was HH hoping to achieve by playing as he did?

It came to Papa in a flash. What would happen if Walter, having begun with the Q-9 doubleton of hearts, won that second heart trick? With only clubs and diamonds left, he would then be forced to lead into one of dummy’s minor-suit tenaces, presenting the Hog with his 12th trick.

“With a triumphant gleam in his eye, Papa addressed the Hog. “Well played, my friend,” he said with a patronizing smile, “but you have made one mistake. You should not have allowed me, Papa, to take the Rabbit’s hand, for by now, of course I can place every card. My partner started with the Q-9 of hearts and you propose to throw him in. Do you really believe that I would permit such a thing? You have heard, no doubt, of the Crocodile Coup. Well, you are about to witness a demonstration, So. On your deuce I go up with my heart king, swallowing my partner’s heart queen, just like a crocodile, and then . . .”

Dumbfounded, the Greek stopped in his tracks. With a swish, he had whipped the heart king across the two, but instead of the queen, the Walrus had followed with the heart 10.

This was the full deal:

♠ A J 7
7 5 3
A K J 5
♣ K J 5
♠ 6 5 ♠ 4 2
K J 6 4 10 9
10 Q 9 6 4 3 2
♣ 8 7 6 4 3 2 ♣ Q 10 9
♠ K Q 10 9 8 3
A Q 8 2
8 7
♣ A

“Man bites crocodile,” jeered the Hog, dissolving into fits of laughter. “The only player in the club that I could rely upon to outwit himself. Ha! ha! ha!”

“They hung up on me. That is, they didn’t answer. I mean . . .” The Rabbit was back in the room.

The episode would have had no sequel had the Hideous Hog stopped gloating there and then. But later that night, sipping Port after his dinners, he held forth at length in the smoking room.

“The diamond queen was obviously wrong and, of course, the Rabbit wouldn’t have doubled four hearts without the heart king. So what hope was there? Only Papa. Who else could be baited with a crocodile?”

“What a piece of luck for you, then,” remarked one of the junior kibitzers, “that the Rabbit was called away and. . .”

“Luck, you call it?” broke in the Hog. “Technique, sir, technique and presence of mind. Do you know what that long-distance call cost me? A fiver, yes sir, that’s what I gave the steward for his, er, cooperation. Mind you, the sight of Pap’s face was worth every penny of it. Ha! ha!”

Deplorable conduct, undoubtedly, but was it, strictly speaking, unethical? The Committee’s final decision is still pending.